It’s the practice day at the 38th Australian Club and Sports Class Nationals, at Lake Keepit in New South Wales, Australia. The contest title is slightly misleading – this event doubles as the “pre-world” contest for the next Women’s World Soaring Championships, to be held at this site a year from now.
Thus it happens that three US women and their support crews are here at this notable southern hemisphere soaring site. Sarah Arnold, Kathy Fosha and Sylvia Grandstaff are competing in the Club Class, with a view toward learning the terrain (lumpy & varied), weather (hot) and customs (distinctly Australian) here.
Today’s weather was just what any site would wish for, to introduce itself to new pilots. Thermals were mostly 8 knots or better (some much better) under beautiful fields of cumulus clouds with bases above 9000’ (over ground that’s around 1000’). This is not actually the best that Lake Keepit can offer, but it will do.
It should be noted that to produce this requires abnormal amounts of solar heating, leading to conditions on the ground that can be distinctly unpleasant. Temperatures of 42 C (107 F) raise no eyebrows here. The contrast between shade and sun is larger than almost anywhere I’ve been – when parking a car, it’s worth seeking out even small scraps of shade (good luck with that: you’ll typically find them all taken).
Lake Keepit offers excellent facilities for a contest. The main runway is huge: 5000’ x 450’. It’s mostly grass, but includes a couple of paved asphalt (“bitumen” in Australian) strips. It has multiple hangars, a clubhouse, and some on-field housing. It’s populated by helpful, friendly, competent Australian glider pilots. The nearby eponymous lake is at times an important local feature – but this is not one of those times: This area is undergoing a significant drought (whence the excellent soaring conditions) and the lake is suffering. It’s currently reported to be at about 0.4% capacity (that’s 1/250). The good side of this is that gliders approaching the airfield a bit too low can find acceptable landing options that in better times would be under water.
All visitors to Australia want to see kangaroos. To say this is no problem at Lake Keepit is a serious understatement: kangaroos are almost a plague here. They mostly lay low through the hot day, though a few can usually be found skulking around the airfield, seeking shade devoid of humans. Come evening, they emerge in multitudes. Drivers must proceed with great care – kangaroos have absolutely no sense about vehicles, and will happily stand still by the side of the road and then leap into your path at the last moment. Late-arriving gliders may face a runway full of furry obstacles. An important gliding club duty slot is the ‘roo wrangler: when a glider reports a few minutes out, an ATV fires up to chase the kangaroos sufficiently to make a safe landing lane available.
Sarah Arnold turned in the best score on today’s 3.5-hour task. In her borrowed Cirrus, she managed 112 kph over 417 km.